CARRY ME LIKE WATER by Benjamin Saenz: A Review

Saenz is rapidly becoming one of my favorite authors.  I have read several of his books, and each one seems better than the one before. Carry Me was his debut novel, described by the Chicano author of Bless Me Ultima,  as “ferocious” and “sentimental.” The characterization (which is something I am always drawn to) and conflicts presented are outstanding. Originally printed in 1995, the E-version came out in 2010.

The story is set in 1970’s America at the height of the AIDs epidemic. It opens with the relationship of Jake and Joaquin, and with Joaquin slowly dying. A compassionate hospice nurse, Lizzie, becomes involved with the two men as she takes care of Joaquin.  Her best friend, the pregnant Maria Elena, confides to her that she has been keeping a BIG secret from her husband and feels compelled to reveal it to him before their baby is born. Little does Maria Elena know that Eddie, her husband, has a BIG secret of his own. Does their marriage survive the revealing of the secrets? What is wrong with the son who is born to them, and where did the gene that carries his affliction come from? How does Lizzie work out the connections between Eddie and Jake, between Maria Elena and herself? When did Lizzie begin to have her supernatural gifts, and how will she use them for the benefit of those she loves? All these questions come pouring in as the novel progresses, but the author ties up all the tendrils of mystery at the end in an entirely satisfactory, uplifting way.

The reader may encounter a few obstacles to smooth reading; some of the characters change their names in the novel, which is confusing, but then the author adds in a twist or a turn that turns the obstacle into an “aha” reveal. If I could only use one word to describe the ending, I would choose “peaceful.”